Betsy Rosenberg, green radio-show host, answers questions
What work do you do?
I’ve gone from 20 years of general news reporting and anchoring for the CBS Radio network to creating an environmental radio minute to hosting and producing a one-hour nationally syndicated eco-awareness program called EcoTalk. I transitioned from journalist to activist a few years ago when, in the wake of 9/11, I decided that “saving the planet one sound bite at a time” was not enough and founded a gasroots group called Don’t Be Fueled! Mothers for Clean and Safe Vehicles. The aim of the campaign is to tell the truth about unsafe SUVs and to promote hybrid vehicles. So I guess the combination of eco-activities makes me “radioactive”!
How does it relate to the environment?
In both my radio shows and activist campaign, I aim to demonstrate why people should take environmental problems more seriously, but I try to do it with a sense of humor. I try to show how these challenges relate to their own lives and families, and to help connect the dots between personal health and planetary health.
What do you really do, on a day-to-day basis? What are you working on at the moment?
In addition to my radio production, being a wife and mom, and attending environmental events and talks, I work on Don’t Be Fueled! by trying to convince “soccer moms” in my community that bigger is not necessarily better. At the moment, my primary work focus is on securing advertising sponsors for my one-hour show on Air America. If anyone knows any green-leaning companies, please send ‘em my way!
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
Ah, that’s a key question in my case because it was a series of epiphanies or wake-up calls about what’s happening to our environment that has led me farther down the green path. As I mentioned above, the bulk of my 25-year career in broadcasting was spent covering daily breaking news: fires, floods, murder, mayhem, and mayors, until I realized that the biggest issue of our time — what we humans are doing to our natural systems and what’s at stake if we don’t soon make an eco U-turn — was largely being ignored by the mainstream media.
So in 1997, just as I was getting burned out on the news biz, I went to my news director at KCBS Radio in San Francisco and pitched doing tips on how to reduce/reuse/recycle for a feature called TrashTalk. It debuted on Earth Day, the same day the city’s first garbage strike in 60 years began, and the subject of trash was suddenly recognized as relevant — for that first week anyway! I took that as a sign the garbage gods were with me, and nearly eight years and some 2,000 enviro tips later, I’m still not able to get to all the great green stories out there!
Three years ago, after interviewing Ted Danson about his new hybrid car and great new “personal CAFE standard,” I traded in my mom-mobile (yes, an SUV!) for a Toyota Prius. That car-ma conversion changed my life as I got so excited about hybrid technology and the opportunity it created to reduce our oil habit that I launched Mothers for Clean and Safe Vehicles. Our mission is to increase demand and supply for cleaner vehicles, primarily hybrids, since that’s the state of the current technology. We have a petition (please sign it!) to demand that Detroit build and sell more fuel-efficient, family-friendly options.
A year ago, when I learned that the new progressive radio network Air America had hired Al Franken, I called the program director and asked what type of environmental show they were planning. He said Bobby Kennedy would be mentioning green issues occasionally in his show “Ring of Fire” but that is primarily devoted to legal and corporate matters. I asked whether he thought the environment might warrant a program of its own on the nation’s first progressive, commercial network, and he agreed. I launched EcoTalk in an interview format when the network debuted last April. There was a lot of early turbulence, but the network has stabilized and is adding new markets each month, and I hope to grow with it!
How many emails are currently in your inbox?
Hundreds because I’m really bad at deleting and filing since I’m so darn busy (working-mother syndrome) and interested in just about anything green.
Who’s the biggest pain in the ass you have to deal with?
Print and broadcast executives and others in a position of power who don’t get the importance of environmental news, trends, and solutions.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Fort Benning, Ga. — a long way from Mill Valley, Calif., my home for the past 12 years.
What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?
I was anchoring the CBS hourly newscast from New York on the overnight shift and nearly fell asleep mid-cast. I had the kind of nod and then snap-to you have when you’re falling asleep at the wheel … neither one a pleasant experience. Fortunately that was CBS Radio and not TV!
What’s been the best?
The night of the San Francisco earthquake in October 1989, I was working the graveyard shift at CBS Radio in New York, so I went on duty just after the quake hit. I was concerned for my family and friends back home in the Bay Area, but professionally it was a kick to be ad-libbing live coverage with another radio anchor about features of the area hit that only a longtime San Francisco resident would know. I also ran down the hall to CBS TV to correct Dan Rather’s live coverage when he mispronounced and misidentified a few places.
What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?
That would be the Senate debate on strengthening CAFE (fuel-economy) standards on March 13, 2002. It was six months after 9/11, and The New York Times was still running daily obituaries. Republicans were calling for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Sens. John Kerry and John McCain introduced a modest plan to improve CAFE standards. The amendment was defeated thanks in part to distortions and lobbying by the auto industry. Trent Lies-a-Lott held up a picture of a Smart car (the cute little ones you see in Europe) and said if CAFE legislation passed “we’d all be driving purple people-eaters,” and it would be “the death of car choice.” Barbara Mikulski stood up and argued against CAFE in the name of soccer moms who “like their SUVs the way they are.”
As a hybrid-driving soccer mom still reeling from the terrorist attack, I was shocked when this common-sense approach to reducing our reliance on foreign oil went down in defeat. So I became an activist to challenge the lies about bigger, “safer” vehicles, and what I perceived to be congressional cowardice and shortsightedness challenging my kid, country, and planet. I took the hypocrisy as an attack on our well-being. I took it personally, which I guess is how many individuals become activists.
Who is your environmental hero?
Sadly, I’ve not met either of my eco-heroines — both Rachel Carson and Donella (Dana) Meadows are in a “greener” place but continue to inspire from above.
While there are many noteworthy environmental NGOs, the one that always impresses me with its consistent scientific findings in the eco-health arena is the Environmental Working Group.
Who is your environmental nightmare?
Someone whose last name evokes something green but whose policies do the opposite.
What’s your environmental vice?
I still like buying clothes even though I don’t need any.
What are you reading these days?
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
I’m a passionate Democrat.
What was your favorite band when you were 18? How about now?
When I was 18, it was Spirit because I loved their song “Nature’s Way” — an early sign of my green leanings. These days I’m out of it musically since I only listen to news and Air America Radio.
What are you happy about right now?
(Finally) having a nationally syndicated environmental program.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Look for an Air America affiliate near you, and listen to EcoTalk at 7 on Sunday mornings. Then email Air America or the network affiliate and ask them to put such an important program on in a better time slot!